[Chike Obeagu]: African Artists Take a Seat at the Table

Chase Quinn, Hyperallergic , August 13, 2015

Boundary lines make up much of the Richard Taittinger Gallery's current exhibit, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - lines that, like borders, criss and cross, divide and obscure. The show's title is meant to signify contemporary African art taking its seat at the table of the "mainstream" art world - a proposition that feels, at best, fraught when you consider the white, Western traditions governing that table and much of Africa's modern, colonial history. Consisting of the work of 12 artists, this well-curated show touches on these tensions and composes a vision of an emerging identity, a face taking shape. Advertised as an exhibit that "celebrates the growing impact of African art on the global stage," it is about cultural presence, identity formation, and visibility.


Chike Obeagu's "Isu Ewu Na Nkombi" (2015) features figures with bulging eyes and lips, paper cutouts from advertisements in what are probably European magazines. These characters, whose skin is similarly collaged in racially ambiguous tones, are sprawled at café tables, sipping drinks by the crown-jewel brands of a white, Western colonial and capitalistic empire: Coca-Cola, Moët & Chandon, etc. The subjects' expressions are somewhat listless and heavy with their patchwork, plastic-surgery-enhanced features. The only figure that isn't an indistinguishable nude shade is the shadowy waiter/butler. In a sense, Obeagu's scenes - another shows its subjects in a gallery, another on a date - are completely ordinary, but they manage to produce a feeling of anxiety and suggest, in their nervous recombination of features, that like the paintings' precarious balance or that of the capitalistic society theydepict, things are only just hanging together.